Let us begin by noting that high-quality social connections are vital to our mental and physical health. In fact, they are at the core of our well-being. After all, we are social beings. Loneliness and isolation are markers of how badly we are doing. It gets worse with age. Beyond that, we would like to explore why it is only considered a problem when men talk about their loneliness.
Over the last few months, numerous blogs have branded men’s loneliness as a “silent epidemic” They have also tried to paint men as victims of not being loved by women, children, and society in general. Our former president, Uhuru Kenyatta signed the polygamy bill in 2022. Do you think that has been helpful to men? The truth is that loneliness is already common in a monogamous marriage.
Men are actually terrible theorists when it comes to loneliness. This is because they assume that something is wrong with the societal structure because loneliness affects them. It is a pretty selfish outlook on life in general. Yet it is made possible by the patriarchal system. Think of it this way, under patriarchy, companionship is a man’s right. That is why men are encouraged (read pushed) to get married and have a family.
When there is no companionship, then there is something structurally wrong, right? Yes. But only if it affects men. This is because men only want structural changes that keep them comfortable. This means they can come and go at will without investing in relationships. They want to keep evading accountability and still expect to be treated like “kings” while they refuse to notice their own unpalatability.
There is no doubt that loneliness is a social structure challenge. It deeply affects different groups of people who have no privilege of being a man. In fact, two days ago a story about sexual harassment in Kericho tea farms broke. As usual, the most common and delusional sentiment was, “Can’t women just turn down sexual advances?” This was said at a time when Kenya is in the deep trenches of unemployment and economic recession. But I digress.
There are two kinds of structural loneliness. The first one is the loneliness of the oppressed who are exiled or had to escape relationships and communities that became abusive. It is experienced by different minority groups. For instance, domestic abuse survivors, the queer, children, people living with disability, the aged, and the terminally ill. 2023 started with the most bizarre and gruesome murder of a well-known Kenyan LGBTQ activist. This has torn the nation into pieces. However, the loudest voices have been of privileged men in politics claiming that homosexuality is a sin according to their religious beliefs. We cannot tell exactly how many more queer youths are put in harm’s way because of such reckless remarks.
This kind of loneliness is a punishment for an identity, for merely existing. Prejudiced men in powerful positions decided that certain kinds of people are not worthy of care, support, and community. This is how deeply bigotry is ingrained in the social fabric. Like the queers, people living with disability also end up abandoned. Did you know that a woman is six times more likely to be separated or divorced after being diagnosed with cancer?
The second kind of loneliness appears self-imposed from the outside. Have you ever heard a man ask, “If marriage is so bad, how comes our grandmothers stayed married till death?” We finally have an answer for them. Loneliness becomes necessary to preserve bodily needs such as sexual safety, self-identity, privacy, freedom, and integrity. The other silent pandemics are intimate partner violence and marital rape.
When women’s safety is threatened by the harshness of a patriarchal system and an abusive partner, they often choose the latter. The first option leaves women financially vulnerable and strips them of their identity. Women trapped in family settings or those whose only role is caregiving are seldom written about. They are otherwise dehumanized.
The other kind of loneliness is a result of both resistance and victory. Feminism has been able to -recognize misogyny and how it affects women and vulnerable minorities in particular. Misogyny is the reason why many women are only seen as sexual objects, servants, wives, and mothers to their men. The patriarchy is organized in such a way that a man has subjects to tend to their every need and order around. As a result, men are left without an idea of how to meet their social and emotional needs with equals.
Social structures mirror the colonial system of a master and slave or servant with the man being the master. However, the great battle of bridging the wage gap, women owning property, and educating more women has made it easier for women to free themselves from forced labor. Men, therefore, lose their captive labor. Suddenly, they become aware that they are on their own. The reality of loneliness sets in.
Patriarchy teaches men to relieve their emotional needs through unrequited relationships. This results in the establishment of toxic hierarchies in the family, workspaces, and social spaces. If someone in power does not get what they want, they simply take it. This attitude is the birthplace of violence. Especially sexual violence.
While loneliness is often thought of as an individual experience, it has far-reaching implications for society as a whole. If we look at the root causes of loneliness, we can see how it is often linked to structural injustices such as poverty, discrimination, and inequality. Collectively recognizing these patterns can help us address the underlying causes of loneliness and create healthier communities for everyone.